This has been a busy year and yet I see that I have not updated the Urban-Herbology blog for a long time. Rather than give a summary of the summer, I would like to share with you a potted version of the Welsh legend of the Lady of the Lake at Llyn y Fan Fach, it’s intimate connection to the famous Physicians of Myddfai and my decision to join Herbalists Without Borders.
I read about Llyn y Fan Fach (a lake of about 6 acres, in the Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacons National Park) quite some time ago, whilst busy with Druidry studies. I was captivated by the tale and found that the lake is a comfortable drive from my parents home on the Wales-England border. So whilst visiting them last week, my parents, my daughter and I went to Llyn y Fan Fach, I swam in the lake and then we visited Myddfai. It was a wonderful experience. We walked the mile and a half track up to the lake from the nearest car park, enjoyed breathtaking views of the clouds and sunlight playing across the Welsh hills, and I enjoyed spotting sheep-grazed herbs all the way. The Myddfai visitor centre closed at 4pm, 15 minutes before we arrived so my wander around the tiny village was self-guided and didn’t lead me to the graves of the last known members of the Physician’s family. Or if it did, I didn’t realise it, so that will have to wait until next time.
The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
A poor sheep herder called Gwyn, who lived with his widow mother, would visit Llyn y Fan Fach regularly, as he tended his flock. One day he saw the most enchanting woman he had ever gazed upon, sitting on the smooth surface of the lake. She was all he had dreamed of and he longed to marry her. Gwyn offered her the only thing that he had to hand, his bread. She refused it, saying that he would have to try harder than that, and that the bread was too dry. He returned the next day with a less dry bread, duly provided by his mother. The Lady of the Lake reappeared and told him this time the bread was too moist, it was like dough, and that he should try harder if he wished to deserve her. So he returned a third time with bread that was just right and indeed to his utter delight, she agreed to marry him. She brought her beautiful prime farm animals out of the lake to join them in their union. However, she told him that when he had struck her three times without cause, during the course of their marriage, that she would leave him directly and return with her animals to the depths of Llyn y Fan Fach.
Time went on, they lived happily on the land and prospered. They had three sons who the Lady of the Lake taught the healing virtues of plants and water. Gwyn was always watchful not to give the Lady of the Lake any cause to leave him but over time three fateful events indeed caused him to touch her without kindness.
Firstly, upon attending a christening, she foretold misfortune for the child and her husband chastised her as he tapped her on the shoulder. Secondly, attending a wedding, she foretold sadness for the newly wedded couple and sobbed pitifully during the event. Her husband again urged her to conform with convention as he touched her on the shoulder. Thirdly, at the funeral of a friend, she laughed heartily among the sad mourners and told her husband this was because the dead have no more worries and are free from pain. He touched her again on the shoulder as he urged her to stop laughing and she replied that this was the third fateful blow. She would then leave him and return to the lake with her animals. And so she did. She returned the way she came, her animals followed and her plough dragging ox, carved a deep everlasting furrow into the mountain that drops to the depths of the lake.
The Lady of the Lake left her husband completely devastated and her sons distraught. It is said that as she left, she commanded her sons to hone the skills and knowledge that she had given them. She told them to heal the ills of all who sought them out and so they did. They lived just six miles from the lake, in the village of Myddfai and became known as the Physicians of Myddfai. For generations to come, they passed on their herbal knowledge, recording it in now famous texts and healed all who needed them. However, there was one person who they could never heal, their mother, the Lady of the Lake, for actually there was nothing wrong with her.
Many wonderful Celtic themes and learnings can be taken from this legend. The tale at first glance can seen irrelevant to us today but I feel that it has a great deal to teach. For a detailed version of the legend (including some direct translation from the Welsh), I recommend a blog post by Rambling Man’s Adventures.
Herbalists Without Borders
After my cleansing swim in the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach, I decided to join Herbalists Without Borders. This is an excellent organisation, striving for health justice and holistic health access for all, around the globe. I look forward to getting involved in HWBs existing activities and developing ways to enable more people to access herbal medicine and knowledge here in Amsterdam or wherever I happen to be As part of this, I am offering payment for consultations on a sliding scale, to those who need this facility.
I hope that you can take something useful from the story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach and that it will not be so long until my next blog post.